Archive for May, 2007

Frankenbaby…

May 31, 2007

Yesterday “By-line Woman” and I had our side by side haircut appointments after which we went off to have a visit and lunch with “Glasgow Girl” and “Mousey”. “By-Line Woman” and I have been friends since third year art school; we both had our kid(s) at a young age, under relatively poor economic circumstances. Thus during our visit we regaled “Glasgow Girl” with comparisons of how equipment in nurseries had changed, but the nature of infants had not, in the intervening 37 years.

“Mousey”, now ten months old, alternately crawls, walks around keeping one hand on surfaces for balance, and covers short stretches of ground, unaided, but staggering like a little drunken sailor. She was fascinated with “By-line Woman”, who in turn appeared charmed by her outgoing sweet nature, her efforts to engage adults in interactions and her goofy sense of humour.

Initially, “Mousey” gave each of us equal time. She would visit each of us, but soon ignored her Mother and me and turned her attentions to “BW”.  “Oh… look at her walk, and at ten months” crowed “BW”. “Mousey” took 14 steps that looked like a drunk forced to demonstrate sobriety by traffic police at a road-block. We giggled madly as she arrived at her destination (BW) and propped herself in what seemed like relief on “BW’s” knees.”Renaissance Man” has taken to calling her ” “Frankenbaby” “, chortled “Glasgow Girl”. The three of us practically peed ourselves laughing at this. It was amusing to conjure up an image of a baby  Boris Karloff, a self-satisfied smile on his tiny raddled face, barefoot and wearing baby Frankenstein clothes, madly windmilling his chubby little arms and lumbering toward a bedazzled, glowing and freshly coiffed, and insanely beaming “By-Line Woman”.

Good one, “Renaissance Man”!  This is one for the family history!

A powerful, thoughtful, thought-provoking blog…

May 29, 2007

Today, Roger at www.citrus.wordpress.com has posted “Scary”, in which he has gifted us all with a poem “Advice to Myself” by Louise Erdrich. It is a powerful poem, made me think of the many occasions when I understood and accepted the finiteness of my existence, of my unimportance in the scheme of things, and the impermanence of all experience and of all natural phenomena. Change, constant, inevitable, is the one certainty I must acknowledge and truly hold firm in my awareness during this journey down the river of life.  A daunting prospect, and yet at the same time I find a certain relief in receiving this reminder today.

“Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch…”

May 27, 2007

Yesterday, the blues and rock garage band of which Rumpole and Renaissance Man are members did a gig at the local Legion hall as a favour for newly married friends for their post-wedding reception. Rumpole plays a mean bass guitar, and has kept up weekly lessons since 1992 when I gave him a months worth of lessons for his birthday gift with a guitar teacher who had played with Ike and Tina Turner’s back-up band and really knew his stuff.

Having missed a chance to be a chick-magnet during his earlier years as a “rock musician” because he was thoroughly engrossed in things scientific and academic, he was thrilled to get a second chance ( by now, to attract late-middle aged women, I assume) to try for rock and roll fame, of sorts.

He had gone off earlier in the day to help set up, which took a number of hours. He returned home late in the afternoon, sore and tired from hefting heavy amps, and immediately retired to the bathroom for a long soak in an epsom salt bath. After the bath he requested a thorough massage with A535, a somewhat malodorous substance, not exacly an attractive scent, and one which I am convinced that those aging Rolling Stone band members would not allow anywhere on their persons – I mean, they would reek of decrepit old athlete! I obliged, by massaging his ageing and acheing neck and shoulders, after which he sauntered off to put on his cool band duds. On the way out the door, he grabbed his peaked black hat with the added false grey pony-tail (he unfailingly wears this to gigs because as he puts it, “it keeps my bald head from competeing with the shine of disco balls.”)

After he left, I did the required drops into my eye, taped on my raffish aluminum patch and repaired to bed to read.  That did not last long,  and I lay there musing about Rumpole and the amazing colour and verve he had brought to my life. What a fortuitous stroke of luck to have shared years of living with him!

How did we end up together?

“Ardent Feminazi” and I formed a fast friendship during our University Design course, where we commiserated about the unfair evaluations given both of us by “Mrs. Redbrick” our demanding, menopausal design professor.  We were the only two young women in that class who also were raising a young child while studying for a degree.  “Ardent Feminazi” was married to “Man of Science” who was at the time working on his Marine Biology master’s degree. Their young son “Junior Entomologist” was 3 years old, while “Renaissance Man” was two; they played together quite happily while “AF” and I spent long hours working on our course papers and projects. I considered “AF” and “MoS” the prefect modern couple. They considered me a completely inept young woman, and “AF”, keen on projects took me on as one.  She embarked on a three year plan to bring me up to snuff as a “good catch” in the marriage market.

The makeover sessions addressed my appearance, which so obviously lacked in any come-hither appeal to young men. “Man of Science” victimized a number of his academic compatriots as test subjects to assess my painfully slowly growing aptitude and attributes as  an attractive female specimen. (After numerous attempts to mold me as a presentable, marriageable young woman, Mother and Father had long ago washed their hands of the whole business.  Thank God!) “Feminazi”, after energetic efforts, also gave up, somewhat to my relief, and “Man of Science” quite bored with this mania of his beloved mate, finally threw in the towel also.

We all were granted our degrees and dispersed to our geographically distant new careers and lives. For years we spent long holidays with each other, and our children happily grew in friendship. The matchmaking pressure had eased, until one fateful summer, during which “Renaissance Man” and I had a two month stay at a seashore cabin in Metchosin, near “AF” and “MoS” country home.

“Man of Science” was working as a Pollution Control biologist for the Provincial Government. He and “Rumpole” were professional sidekicks;  part of their job, as a team, was to travel around the Island’s communities and test for sewer outfall pollution of coastal waters. “Ardent Feminazi” decided that, as a last ditch effort, she had to contrive to get “Rumpole” and me to meet, and then to let fate and the gods ( and her makeover skills) do their matchmaking magic.

She embarked on teaching me how to do my long hair with curlers and sprays so it would fall in enticing curls. I preferred the “au naturel” look, as in let the hair fall how it wants to, just keep it out of my eyes! She insisted that my clothes have a closer fit, in order to show off my feminine assets in a tasteful fashion. Makeover boot-camp was a total drag, and she harped on an on as mercilessly as a drill sargeant. After she felt assured that I could keep up appearances to her satisfaction, she and “MoS” decided on the occasion on which I would be presented to “Rumpole” for his consideration.

They plotted to have “AF” me, “JE” and “RM” embark on a long camping trip to Long Beach, where “Man of Science” and “Rumpole” were stationed for an extended study of two communities’ tidal basins. “Ardent Feminazi” and I outfitted and provisioned our small group and we loaded gear and young boys into the family LandRover for the long and hot drive to Long Beach. We arrived all bedraggled and bitchy and met up with the young scientists, after a grueling trip. “The catch”extricated herself from the vehicle, dusty, carefully set curls disarrayed and ratty and makeup melting to meet her match, her hyper 5 year old unleashed onto the campground and racing about suddenly freed from being cooped up for a long journey.

So much for a well-orchestrated and auspicious first introduction! Poor “Ardent Feminazi” had the best of intentions and brought all her knowledge and experience to this situation, but forgot that unlike God, a matchmaker cannot possibly predict unexpected influences nor completely have control of a given situation. What happened next surely had a little something to do with her subsequent bra-burning spree while muttering Wiccan curses, and her baptism by fire into her  “au naturel” make-up (and brassiere) free feminist persona.

The weather conspired against ideal matchmaking conditions. We emerged daily from within soggy tents and sleeping bags, cold, disheveled and disreputable-looking to labour over a weak campfire to cook up victuals for whining young boys, and camp-fire coffee, weak and full of grounds, for us adults.  The scientists squished away to their vehicle and their work-chores (and probably a full breakfast at a nearby greasy spoon) while “Ardent Feminazi”and I organized the days’ entertainments for the two boys. At days’ end the scientists returned to the sorry-looking, wet group huddled around a wispy campfire, trying to cook up a culinary treat for supper – mostly weiners roasted on sticks, by the juvenile sous-chefs, and delectable canned pork and beans carefully heated up by “the Catch”. We spent until bed-time each night huddled around the fire, miserable and unable to maintain interest in any kind of sustained conversation. We all smelled of wood-smoke, a pleasant scent sometimes, on infrequent occasions, but a smell not often associated with the matchmaking arts. Sleeping arrangements were scientists in one tent, women and children in another.  This was a good thing, because Rumpole complained in the mornings of the horrific snoring sounds from our tent, for which “Ardent Feminazi”, still in marginal matchmaker mode, admitted responsibility, claiming poor sinuses. We resembled Neanderthals on a camp-out in an old-growth rainforest.

The evening before the day we were to break camp and drive home to civilization, the skies cleared to reveal a gorgeous moonlit and starry night. After the children were tucked into their sleepingbags, the four of us adults gathered around  a more vigorous camp-fire and shared some wine and pleasant conversation.  At one point, during a lull, “Rumpole” asked me, “Have you ever seen phosphorescence?” Being a suburban woman, I had never heard the term and replied “No.  What is it?” “Come along, I’ll show you.” he said, grabbing a flashlight. “Ardent Feminazi” and “Man of Science” shot each other meaningful glances and looked very smug.

“Rumpole” and I picked our way through the undergrowth in the dark, and found our way down to the sandy beach.  He found a washed-up log for us to support our backs as we hunkered down on the sand. “Wait for your eyes to acclimatize to the dark, and then look at the breakers as they approach the shore – soon you’ll see the phosphorescence” he suggested.

The phosphorescent sea was magical and I was entranced. Rumpole dispelled the romantic mood by launching into a precise scientific explanation of the phenomenon. I found this charming and endearing as well as quite humorous, and told him so! He made a sarcastic comment about his lack of good romantic moves, chuckled and held my hand.

“The rest”, as the saying goes, ” is history!”

Politics and Marriage…

May 27, 2007

Ever since our courtship days, Rumpole and I have held differing political views, and have argued with considerable passion about our view-points during the past 32 years of our relationship as a couple. He considers himself a Liberal with strong Conservative tendencies. I have been a life-long Socialist with some Liberal leanings.  Whenever Rumpole gets frustrated with me during one of our many political disagreements he resorts to calling me a Pinko and adds “your father brought you out into freedom from a Communist country… you must be a huge disappointment to him with your Pinko ideas!”

It is a source of wonder to me that our 30 year old marriage has endured through a number of Provincial and Federal elections. The campaign periods leading up to these elections were times when our relationship was amply and discordantly spiced with our differing opinions on issues debated, quality of candidates’ debates and election outcomes.

“How are you going to vote this time?” became a question we asked each other prior to going to the voting stations. In the early days of our marriage we both believed that candour and transparency about our beliefs and actions was the best policy, and we ended up in some lengthy and vociferous arguments. This certainly provided showers of sparks that ignited some fiery discussions and strong attempts to convince each other with eloquent reasonings to see the error of our individual philosophies. Rumpole really learned how to argue when he was in Law School, and he firmly believed that if he presented me with logically structured and refined arguments he would eventually convince me to acknowledge the flaws in my reasonings and thus bring me around to his point of view. I soon learned to dig in my heels and concentrate on finding the weaknesses in his convoluted and convincing verbal barrages. This always caused the temperature of our exchanges to escalate. Boy, did we ever argue, nit-picking fine points and bringing articles from newspapers and references to details of political platforms to provide ammunition for our verbal salvoes.

Later during our marriage we learned to agree to disagree.  However, in typical passive/aggressive fashion I began to be subversive in small ways to remind him that I still held my beliefs.  Before one Provincial election the Premier seeking re-election was a right winger. Rumpole’s law firm decided to attend a fundraising dinner during which the Premier, then the local candidate, would make rousing speeches to whip up the fervour of the attendees. All the lawyers and their wives were expected to show up, decked out in appropriate formal dress.  Rumpole encouraged me to buy a new formal dress so I would be properly attired for the occasion. On principle, I decided that the occasion did not warrant me to buy new duds; I would never want to wear that particular dress again because of  unpleasant associations related to its wearing. After conferring with a friend as to how to deal with this little problem, we came up with a solution.

She had a khaki silk knee-length dress, with a little Mao collar, long sleeves and slits at both sides of the hem, like a  Chinese cheong-sam. It had a subtle, military tailoring and best of all, it fit me! I had simple carmine sandals that worked with it perfectly and provided just the right communist touch. When I modelled the outfit to Rumpole at home, being a quick study he caught on to my intention right away and said “What are you thinking of? Surely you won’t have the nerve to go to the dinner in THAT?” I replied with – “well, since I can’t get out of being at that dinner, I will wear what I feel comfortable in, and besides which the outfit didn’t cost a dime!” Ever practical, he shrugged and assented. But I knew, that sometime later, he would get even in a manner I could never anticipate.

Fast forward to the fundraiser dinner. The crowd was elegant, all a-twitter with excitement of meeting The Big Man. Men in formal suits, women in long flowing formal gowns (except for Stepford Wife, who looked like a little khaki drab bird) Rumpole’s partner was aghast and suggested that Rumpole should have controlled me better and made sure that I “blended in more and looked less severe”, and rumbled about me having “Pinko attitudes”. Score one for the Pinkos!

A few years later during a Federal election, the Senior partner contested the local Liberal running position. For his campaign speech he decided to get creative and ask all the company wives and secretaries to dress up as cheerleaders with pom-poms and back up his politicking speech with a little cheer-leader performance. It was my turn to be aghast, and I declined firmly this oppportunity to hit the stage and become part of a ridiculous spectacle.  I secretly hoped he would lose the nomination and he did. The man selected for the running position was someone Rumpole respected, and he agreed to be that candidate’s campaign organizer. And now he took his opportunity to get even with me. He volunteered me to design and print all the election signage.  “You owe me this after your act of rebellion with the Pinko outfit at that fundraiser!” he insisted. “Okay, but you have to actually help me print all those hundreds of lawn signs and all the big road signs, and you have to get your guy to okay the budget needed for all the supplies. And, you will have to get me helpers to do all of the printing and screen cleaning” I demanded.

I was not too thrilled to be volunteered for this task, but immediately buckled down and ordered the screens, inks, squeegees, paper tape, Coroplast and stencil material. It was a massive undertaking that took two weeks to finish, with unreliable helpers, static problems with the ink, and a whining Rumpole reluctantly learning how to clean screens and carping on about how he couldn’t get all the ink off his skin no matter how he tried. “How can I meet with clients with my hands  showing all this red stuff ? he complained. “Well, you could make some reference or other to Shylock.  Or make a quip about being caught red-handed!” I responded, not at all  sympathetic. Feh! I lived and breathed silk-screen ink and solvents for two weeks, looked very glamorous with red ink residue on my hands and arms, and crawled into bed each night sore and exhausted  after working flat out for 16 hour days during this “little ” project. After the signs were delivered, Rumpole admitted that had he known what a major chore this was he would never have volunteered me for the job. Hah! Score a big one for the Liberals!

As we have aged, we have become rather less argumentative about politics. Neither of us march off in a huff during disagreements and our debates have gentled to a truly civilized level. Also, both of us have learned to adopt ideas that make sense, no matter what political party they originate from and we are less dogmatic and extreme in our beliefs.

This is a huge relief! It also is a sign of our ageing.

Gallery Hop…

May 26, 2007

Earlier in the week Lucky called, excited, and said she wanted to go to the preview of Heffel’s auction of Canadian art, most especially to see one particular painting by the Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris. She wanted to organize a trip to Vancouver so she, Barb and I could see a variety of paintings.  “Should be fun,” she said, “but, are your eyes up for it?” Was she kidding? “Oh, yeah!” I whined, “I feel like a complete shut-in! Even if I have to stand two inches in front of paintings and see some colour and marks I NEED TO SEE SOME ART!” So Lucky and Barb co-ordinated the time they would both be able to take a day and Friday became our art gallery hop date.  Yippee yay!

Naturally, Rumpole has to know of my movements and schedule, such as it is these days, and he disapproved of this upcoming play-date. “You are hopeless! You are going to stress your eyes and will spend the next two days whining about pain,” he rumbled, “but if you are so determined to go, at least wear your clip-on shades, a hat, and keep your eyes closed whenever you are not actually trying to see the art.” I reassured him that Barb would lead me about by the hand, me with my eyes closed, whenever we walked outside, and that I would take breathers whenever my eyes got tired.

Barb arrived early at our house. “Is that Barb sitting on our lawn?” asked Rumpole, “call her to come in for Heaven’s sake!” i trot outside in my housecoat and chastize her for not coming inside. ” I didn’t want to catch you guys in your underwear, charging about getting ready,” says Barb with a huge grin. (What? A sighting of two junior-seniors in their full early morning splendour is such a horrible thing to contemplate?) She comes inside, sits down in the kitchen and watches bemused as Rumpole makes a small fashion show of his tie selections. Once he has attained sartorial elegance, he kisses me on the lips and cautions “Take it easy today!” I roll my one good eye, like Quasimodo’s one eyed mother, at Barb; she rolls her two blue eyes in response.  We giggle, conspiratorial.

Lucky arrives in her hot bomb of a car. It is very funny, but we have all decided to wear black pants today. Whenever we do anything that involves going out to openings or art shows I jokingly state that correct attire for such occasions is anything BLACK.  At least today we are at half-way correctly dressed for a gallery hop. We pile into the car after some discussion of who is to sit up front beside Lucky.  I insist on sitting in the back seat – “How can I back-seat drive from the front?” 

On the way to Gallery Row in Vancouver , we discuss the ins and outs of living with 17 year-old daughters as both Lucky and Barb have daughters that age.  I say a quiet prayer of thanks for never having had a daughter, because surely remaining in a state of sanity and equilibrium is really difficult while raising teen-age daughters. Or so I have heard.

We arrive at destination’s end and find a parking spot, quickly. (Thank you, Parking Angel!) The voracious meter swallows up quarters and gives 10 minutes per quarter. I do the required feeding, and we troop into gallery #I, for what we estimate might take a fifteen minute visit. An hour later, Barb and Lucky, having made themselves completely comfortable there, have explored the front show space, discussed at length the work there, put a number of good questions to the gallery attendant and have got her involved in discussing the work, artists, pricing and valuation, and have lingered in the back room looking, looking and talking to eah other and me about the differences in paint marks, surfaces, colour and tonal limits, concepts. I sit on the large block of wood that is meant for sitting in the main gallery, close my eyes and just listen to their comments, questions and expressions of surprise and wonder, very satisfied that they are finding so much to discuss and express their opinions about. When we finally leave, and check on the parking meter, we find it requires further feeding, and once we have done this, they grasp me by the elbows and we stroll three abreast the block to Heffel’s.

Lucky is so excited, and goes about looking at all the work up for the internet auction. She asks the attendant where the lawren Harris painting she so wants to see is being kept, and is disappointed that it is buried somewhere in the store-room’s bowels and would be difficult to unearth and be brought up for her eyes to see. “Rats!” she exclaims, but the attendant hands her a good reproduction to take away, and she is somewhat mollified. On show are about fifteen paintings by various Canadian artists from about 1920s onward guarded by a smiling man in uniform. Lucky exclaims that all the paintings are so different, and asks why all the pre-auction estimates are so high.  So we engage the gallery attendant in a discussion about this. Soon three odd-looking, but sweet wire haired Dacshund gallery dogs meander out from the back office, curious about the noise, mill about our legs and sniff us up. All three of us are dog people and this visitation by furry, four-legged gallery attendants completely charms us; really adds to the whole experience. We leave.

The highlight of this gallery hop is a block up-hill on Granville, the Atelier Gallery. What is here is the reason I stubbornly insisted to Rumpole that I go on this excursion with the girls – a show of current paintings and drawings by BC painter, Robert Young, whose work I have admired for 40 years. On my last  weekly visit with Dr. L my GP, he teased me with information about there having been an opening at this gallery for this show.  Dr. L knows of my passionate regard for this painter’s work, as we have had spirited discussions in his office about matters pertaining to BC painters, and Dr. L jokingly commented that he was going to have his son start on a career as newspaper delivery boy so he could save up enough shekels to buy a Robert Young painting as a Father’s day present for him!

Well, we stayed in the Atelier a very long time, looking, considering, discussing, marvelling.  This painter has a most remarkably restrained manner of working, and this has an effect of stilling a viewer into a thoughtful and contemplative state. Lucky has a preference for more visceral painterliness in handling materials, more energy, greater abandon. Barb, on the other hand has a liking for measured control in working with paint – a slow, dreamlike manner of constructing images.  The result of their differing predelictions was a really thoughtful discussion, to which the gallery attendant paid close attention, and during which the gallery owner paused beside us to listen to,  a satisfied smile on his face.

My eye was sore, but, so what, pleasure of seeing this remarkable body of work made me forget discomfort.  The stimulating discussions among us had been most satisfactory. Barb and Lucky grasped my elbows and led me to the Alliance Francaise restaurant, where we ate light lunch and continued our discussion, most happily.

On the way home, driving through Friday afternoon rush-hour, I lounged in the backseat with eyes closed and listened to the continuing conversation between Lucky and Barb, most gratified that they had so much enjoyed this outing. And I had got my necessary Art Fix, which was worth two days of anticipated eye discomfort.

Thanks so much, you two gems, Barb and Lucky, for providing and sharing this marvellous gallery hop!

You can see Robert Young’s work in this show at : www.ateliergallery.ca     Enjoy!

Commenting on other blogs…

May 26, 2007

Yesterday and today, trying to make comments on other people’s blogs, it happened that my comments didn’t post when submitted.  What? Has this happened to you? This is odd, will now have to explore why this is happening…. I hate enforced silence, heh!

Laundry stories…

May 24, 2007

Degas made a series of drawings of women ironing – strong, sensitive images that show the depth of a woman’s physical engagement in such a task, of her immersion and concentration in skillfully carrying out of such a necessary mundane chore.

In my role of “Lone Arranger” I had to find a model for our Sunday afternoon sustained painting session. People seemed to be quite bored of painting a model plunked down in front of a draped cloth, looking languid and merely sitting with hands decorously and gracefully placed. Yet another “woman sitting doing nothing” scenario was one that did not make me eager to drag my easel and equipment to the hall where we did our painting. I wanted something a bit more toothy!

Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis had been sitting for me fairly regularly at home, and she was well broken in as a model. So, I posed the question to her that she consider sitting for our painting group for four weeks. “You know how you have such a love-hate relationship with laundry” I put to her, “and, especially how you absolutely loathe ironing?  How about you model for us doing ironing?” This tickled her curiosity and she agreed this might pose some challenge for the painting group, and much to my delight she agreed to be our ironing model.

I loaded up my largely unused ironing board, and OLPC brought her brand new, space-age, never before put into service iron. At the first session as painters were setting up their easels curious as to what  situation they were to paint, OLPC stood up the ironing board, plugged the iron into the wall socket and placed her daughter’s skirt onto the board and launched into a fairly relaxed pose.

Soon, sotto voce grumblings from the painters emerged into the stillness of the studio. “Who on earth is going to want to buy my painting of a woman ironing?” “This is too complicated!” “It’s going to take too long to establish the relative proportions of the equipment and the figure!”

I was very happy with this challenge and tackled the whole process with intent pleasure. The question of selling the resulting painting didn’t even occur to me, I just wanted to take on the business of looking and painting.  After the fourth week of painting this ironing study, members of the group insisted politely and firmly that our next model be a nubile young woman in a nice dress who just simply sat there looking sultry and decorative – no more zaftig middle-aged models doing boring mundane chores, please! The “Lone Arranger” was being demoted! Ah, well – such is life.

The following month, a number of us, all local painters, were requested to take part in a fund-raiser for the local women’s shelter. We were to set up individually and spend four hours painting, during which time an audience could walk about drinking cocktails and look at the process of taking a painting from beginning to completion. At the end of the four hours, each work was to be auctioned off and the proceeds were to be donated to the women’s shelter to help outfit families who had left behind abusive situations. This seemed like a worthy endeavour toward which to bend my energies, so I agreed to take part.

OLPC agreed to be my model, and she and I looked at  my big book on Degas, so we could find a reproduction which might serve as a basis for a variation on a theme.  We found the marvellous image of Madame de Valpincon resting beside a big bouquet of flowers.  She looked a bit tired and slightly bored, as if the chore of collecting and arranging the flowers had taxed her and she needed to take a rest.  I proposed to pose OLPC beside a huge laundry basket filled with a variety of flowery sheets, with a box of laundry soap and a squeeze bottle of Shout de-stainer, given how OLPC loathed her never-ending cycles of laundering.  She agreed that this might be fun to do for a four hour pose.

On the day of this painting performance, OLPC and I carted a carful of equipment – Photo-floods and their stand, electric extension cord, tarp for the floor to prevent making permanent stains, laundry basket, sheets, box of laundry soap, Shout bottle, easel, paints, brushes, solvents and gessoed panel and a bottle of good red wine for OLPC and me to share in order to dispel performance jitters.  We set up very efficiently and taped a large reproduction of the Degas “Woman with Chrysanthemums” to the edge of the table supporting the pallette and paint tubes, leaned my painting of “Woman ironing” next to it and laid a small notebook and pen under a sign requesting onloookers to share their laundry stories by writing them into the notebook ( as yet another way for viewers to participate in the process, rather than passively looking on).

OLPC was wonderful – she sat holding the pose, engaged visitors in conversation and encouraged them to write their laundry stories into the little notebook. I collected my personal bubble around myself, inside which I hid and worked largely unaware of having my activity monitored by many strangers. Sounds abated, except for the scrape and scurry of my paintbrushes, the activity of mixing paint, making marks obliterated my nervousness.  Drinking the wine also helped numb any feelings of sheer terror I may have had, the painting proceeded. Four hours went by in a flash.

I did not stay for the auction, but OLPC did.  She reported that my friend Kay bid up the painting and ended up taking it home. I was outside nervously nursing a cigarette and sipping a glass of wine while reading the curious laundry stories people had written into my little notebook.  OLPC came out, excited, and reported to me that someone wanted to buy my painting of “Woman ironing”.

Who’d think that such prosaic subject matter in a painting would capture someone’s imagination, compelling them to part with a sum of money for possession of it? Amazing too is the fact that images are so powerful that they unleash a personal connection in viewers strong enough that they would provoke them to mine their own memories for remembrances of situations surrounding simple activities we generally think of as ordinary, unimportant and which yield such a trove of stories which pique interest.

Thank you OLPC, and thank you Degas for propelling me in this direction the outcome of which was so rich!

Sleeping with strangers, the hostelling way…

May 21, 2007

Rumpole and I were supposed to spend this Victoria Day weekend with Prissy German Tourist and Obsessive-Compulsive Shopaholic up at their wonderful place on the Sunshine Coast. Rumpole in his wisdom refused to take me because he feared that PGT would keep me for hours on the computer looking at his LA, Santa Monica and Venice Beach photos (well, that is a predictable no-brainer!) which would exhaust my eyes and prolong the healing process. The thwarted travel opportunity may be why I am obsessing on the theme of travel in my current blogs.

One of the best preparations to help an inexperienced young traveller embarking on an extended hostelling vacation is to pose the questions, “Remember when your Mom and Dad sent you off to your first Camp Goodtimes experience when you were 8 years old? Remember how you felt, and what were your main worries in anticipating this experience?”

In hindsight, I wish I had expressed to my parents some of my nervousness about the awkwardness in sleeping with a group of complete strangers during my upcoming travels.  But of course any such expressions from me would probably indicate to them that I was not yet ready to embark on such a journey and thus should be convinced to defer such ambitious travel plans until a later date.  Myra, my travel companion, was even more timid than I, and it was not until the CN train bearing us to Montreal pulled out of the Vancouver station on the first leg of our journey that we casually broached this topic in conversation.

We had three sleeps to endure on the train before arriving in Montreal.  We wondered about the sleeping accommodations.  These were simply stated as information at the time of our booking, and not having any prior experience with overnight train travel, we were quite curious of how these sleeping arrangements were to shape up.

At bedtime, the lights in coach suddenly dimmed, and a conductor walked down the aisle telling passengers their berths had been readied for the night and we could proceed to the back of the train. The coach emptied of passengers as we all headed back to the sleeping car.  There an attendant checked our tickets and directed us to the correct berth, and pointed where the bathrooms were. Myra got a top berth and I was below her on the bottom one and had a good window to look out from.

What was the correct protocol? Did one line up at the bathroom door to prepare for ablutions and teeth-washing while still in street clothes? Or did one change into pajamas inside the berth and surface in night clothes to embarrassedly scurry down the aisle to the bathroom to do the necessities? I opted for the second choice, but put on my long rain-coat over my pajamas to look decent.  After all there were men, women and children of all ages mixed into the sleeping car, and one had to maintain modesty.

Once the bathroom hurdle had been dealt with, Myra clambered up to her sleeping pallet and zipped herself into privacy.  Her voice muffled by the enclosure, she complained about the poor headroom up there, and about the compartment reminding her of being inside a coffin. I crawled easily into my spot, and promptly banged my head on the bottom of Myra’s ledge. Then I played with the button operating the rather dim reading light, settled my bag near the foot of the pallet, and turning out the light settled into letting my eyes adjust to the darkness as I gazed out the window into the passing dark landscape. The sleeping car was remarkably noisy for a while as people struggled into their spots, said comments and goodnights to each other, as their zippers swished, they cleared their throats or they grumbled about their discomforts.  It took me a long time to fall asleep, but the rhythmic throbbing of the wheels on rails combined with the black on black landscape shifting in accompaniment in the window lulled me to a restless sleep.

The first night of sleeping on the train eased the way for the next two sleeps, and we arrived in Montreal rested and ready of phase two of our travel, embarkation onto the Olympia, a Greek passenger ship. The sleeping accommodations here were one step up from those on the train. Lots of head room, sleeping berths with grab bars and straps one could tie oneself in on a tossing ship, lockers for possessions, and glossy white enamel paint on all the plain metal walls and surfaces of the cabin.  Our cabin was in steerage, all we felt we could afford, and we had no port-hole through which to see the expanses of water we travelled upon.  Bathrooms were down the passageway, and we only had to share our cabin with two middle-aged ladies who were quite pleasant and didn’t bother with us. We were attended by a pleasant older porter who spoke awfully accented English; he was good preparation for upcoming linguistic confusions and deciphering. We had some wonderfully silly and convoluted communications, lots of laughter and misunderstanding with him.

Communal dining was the norm, and being in steerage, we were served on first call for meals – no sleeping in for the poor travellers.  This had a strangely uncanny resemblance to eating communally at Camp Goodtimes, the only difference being having waiters deliver the food, and passengers eating with a greater degree of decorous politeness ( no flicking peas across at other diners, no slurping drinks, or making gagging sounds at the sight of unfamiliar food!) Oh yes, and there was wine with dinner, not the watered down juice served at Camp Goodtimes.  This was a huge bonus, especially for 19 year old girls, who were at that time of not legal age to imbibe alcohol, and who wished to look worldly to their table mates.  We did drink rather a lot of wine, but we reasoned that it all made the rather oily Greek food easier to digest.

Travel by ship allows for a gradual acclimatization to a different mode of having to operate.  For us this was a good thing.  The hostelling experience in France, our first destination, was rather easy to adjust to. However, what we were not prepared for was having a dorm full of young women talk till all hours of the night, or weep unconsolably for whatever reason, or having our shoes mysteriously disappear overnight.  Especially strange was the ubiquitous rule for lights out at 10 pm. This really meant lights out, the juice stopped flowing into the bare bulbs in the ceilings, and no amount of flickings of switches would restore light. Also, there was to be no lingering in bed in the morning; hostellers had to be out and about at what seemed the crack of dawn, bolt down their meager breakfast, hasten to perform given chores and leave the hostel – unceremoniously expelled back into the streets with their belongings in tow. Now this had some eerie similarities to prior experiences at Camp Goodtimes.  We wished someone had told us about how this hostelling business was to come down!

One memorable occurrence in hostelling comes to mind. I was travelling to Monaco, solo. Myra had gone to Le Mans with a couple of Mozambiquan  fellows.  At the hostel in Monaco, I had met a bunch of young people from Brooklyn in the lounge.  We were all in a rebellious mode and decided that Monaco had too much night life to offer for us to hie to our beds at 10 pm like good little children.  Thus we arranged with some boys to sneak out of the hostel after lights out, meet at the edge of the field surrounding the hostel, and head down to the casino as well as to the docks to see the beautiful private yachts there. 5 of us girls, dressed in our finest clothes in the dark dormitory, and one by one slipped through the window to crawl through tall grass in the field outside the hostel walls.  The only problem was, that the hostel-keeper had two Alsatian dogs that let out a huge barking when the first girl made the expected rustlings in the tall grassy field. So the rest of us determined to let 15 minutes elapse between each girl sneaking out the window.  It took us over an our to assemble at the edge of the field and road, from where we had a considerable hike to the casino downhill.  When we got to the casino we were really disappointed to find a band playing in a sleepy, desultory fashion, a man and woman drunkenly dancing, and two haggard gamblers half-heartedly engaged in a game.  Down to the waterfront we trooped, found things battened down there, and amused ourselves by sneaking aboard several yachts, hoping all the while not to be caught.

About3 o’clock in the night, we slowly made our way uphill to the hostel. Of course, we had to take a longish time individually sneaking through the tall grass so we wouldn’t alert the Alsatians to rouse their mistress and thus get us all into trouble. And naturally, when one is trying to be especially quiet and sneaky, grass rustlings take on ominous noisiness, and I mused about the Alsatians being dead to the world that they couldn’t hear the loud scurryings we were making, as we crept, every 15 minutes toward our bunks that by this time were beckoning so enticingly.  We did make it back into the dorms and fell into a deep sleep, which was too soon interrupted by the morning wake-up siren.  As we stumbled around in the bathroom getting ready, and languished over coffee in the dining hall and in excruciating sloth performed our given clean-up chores, we mutually bemoaned the “curse of Camp Goodtimes” that had followed us from our various places of origin to this ill-conceived adventure in Monaco. Yeck! The “playground of the Mediterranean”!

Obviously not for poor, hostelling students! I am sure, our parents would have been much reassurred  had they known how similar to going to Camp Goodtimes our European adventure was turning out to be, and some rather bemused chuckles would have greeted our later reports to them, had we ever told them of this similarity!

Bordeaux and Frejus…

May 20, 2007

My art school friend Myra was as sheltered by her family as I was. We were both 19 years old an spent a considerable amount of energy during our first year of art school convincing our parents that we should be allowed to embark on an extended trip around Europe. Once parental permissions were granted, we plotted and planned our itinerary, our necessary baggage, applied for our passports, got our innoculations and acquired phrasebooks in French, Spanish, Italian and German.  Also we both purchased that young travellers’ bible “Europe on $5 a Day”.  This we studied individually as well as together, so that we could determine what we wanted to see on our travels, and how we could manage our movements on scant funds.

One absolute requirement from both sets of our parents was that we not let each other from sight, and we carefully look out for each other during our travels.  This we assented to readily as neither of us had travelled anywhere solo before and each of us had some trepidations about our upcoming forays into foreign places.

We had travelled around Northern France, Normandy and Britanny, Northern, Central and coastal Spain, and had explored the Western French Mediterranean.  We had visited many churches, their crypts, museums, art galleries, alleys and byways, small villages, farming communities, bunkers in Britanny, open air markets, Foire Forailles, book-sellers stalls, specialty grocery stores, corner bars, Pieds Noirs restaurants where we ate meals of horse meat, all the American Express outlets in various places where our mail had been forwarded to. We stayed at hostels to sleep and sometimes in train stations’ waiting rooms. A few times we slept overnight on trains, most uncomfortably. We ate casual meals consisting of a ficelle, some sausage and cheese, a tomato, some fruit we picked up on our daily meanderings. When we stayed at hostels we cooked vegetables and pasta and washed it all down with some spectacularly cheap and bad red wine.

By the time we were in Frejus, two months had passed, and we were tiring of each other’s company. Myra rarely had her own strong desires as to what she wanted to see and do, and I got rather weary of constantly putting forth possibilities, usually a great variety of them, to see if Myra would like to choose one activity over another.  She’s shrug and say “That sounds like fun, let’s do that.” This always in a limp and half-hearted fashion which made me suspect she was bored by most of what we ended up doing.

In the hostel in Bordeaux, I had met Santiago, a young architect from Argentina who had just completed his degree at an Eastern US university. He had embarked on a three month tour of Romanesque and Gothic churches in order to study their plan footprints and their attached and adjacent enclosures.  He showed me a set of drawings he had done up to this time, carefully explaining the differences from one cathedral’s footprint to the next. He said Bordeaux had a range of churches showing gradual shift from the Romanesque to the Gothic, and proposed to take Myra and me and any other denizens of the hostel on a study tour the next day.  I rounded up the victims (ahem, fellow curious travellers) and bright and early the next day we trooped off to an exhilarating and exhausting journey from church to church around Bordeaux.

By the time we had made careful tours of only three Romanesque churches, many of our companions flagged and insisted on sitting in outside cafes, drinking wine, while Santiago and I tackled yet another examination of some obscure cathedral. He and I happily sketched and photographed, asked permission from the sacristan to visit the crypt, to go up in the campanile.  It was while we were in the tower examining the bells and how they were anchored that Santiago turned to me and asked me to consider travelling with him through Northern and Central Spain where we could together study the cathedrals he had determined worthy of his examination. “A strictly virtuous companionship” he expressed. “You are someone with whom I can be quiet, do the necessary thinking, and drawing and photographing, and I think you would know how to occupy yourself fruitfully in your own drawings and studies.” He asked me to let him know by the end of the day, if this would be a travel arrangement I would agree to.

Over dinner back at the hostel I discussed this proposal with Myra. When she looked crest-fallen, with a slightly abandoned air, I hastened to reassure her that in spite such an offer being terribly enticing, I had not forgotten my promises to both our parents.  We would continue our journey together.  She reacted with relief, wherupon I sought out Santiago in the crowded lounge and explained as to why I could not go off with him. He said, “Why, you are like one of our honourable Argentinian young women, no wonder I find you so amenable and comfortable!” So we arranged to meet up in Barcelona in a month’s time at the Parc Guell’s restaurant and share travel stories.  He hugged me and wished us a good journey. ( We did meet up at the Parc Guell a month later, as arranged, where we looked at each other’s drawings over a bottle of wine)

So here we were in the hostel at Frejus,  Myra and I, sunburned and starved after a long walk along the beach to St Tropez and back to Frejus. Myra had read a lot about St. Tropez, and how famous actors such as Brigitte Bardot hung her hat there, so she insisted we had to see what it was like.  She absolutely had to buy a bikini from one of the shops in that village.

We had shopped for food on the walk back to the hostel – some pasta, garlic, butter, cheese and tomatoes. In the communal kitchen I messed around inventing a tomato sauce, while Myra cooked up the pasta and amused herself by throwing tendrils up to the ceiling to see when they would stick there.  She maintained that pasta that stuck to the ceiling meant that it was all cooked and  was ready to consume.  A couple of young men from Mozambique were frying up horse meat steaks next to us and were plying us with some really awful red wine.  We all decided to share our feasts, as long as they kept the wine flowing.

So, happily we consumed at leisure, what, in hindsight, was a terrible meal – sticky pasta, unspiced sauce and greasy tough horse steaks. But, with the wine it all went down well, and in the fashion of meetings in hostels we got along famously and filled each other in on where we had come from, where we were going and what we found amazing during our journeys.  The wine soon got to me, and I excused myself to go to bed, leaving Myra to entertain the young guys.  Went off, had a cold shower (hot water?, what hot water?) and fell onto the bunk.

Sometime after lights out, Myra woke me up from an uncomfortable sunburned sleep.  She sat on the end of my bunk, excited, swinging her legs and looking quite happy. “G. I have made up my mind that I will go with the boys from Mozambique tomorrow.  They want to go to the Le Mans car races, and that sounds so exciting! I will meet you in Rome in three weeks time and will send you a letter at the American Express office there as to where we should meet and on what day.”  Groggy, I muttered “Okay, but what about the promise we made our parents?  I am quite happy to carry on alone, but how do we handle  reassuring our parents  that we are being looked after?” Myra, confident, cautioned “No need to mention this to anyone at home.  Promise me you’ll say nothing about this?” “Okay. ” I agreed, turned over and went back to sleep.

The following morning, we were late emerging from our sunburned sleep.  Most of the hostel residents were headed down the road.  Only Myra, I, the two boys from Mozambique and a young man in his early thirties were left in the communal lunchroom. We all had our packs and bags sitting by our tables, and the young man had made a pot of coffee that he shared with the rest of us sleepy ones.  Myra launched into a reiteration about how exciting it would be to go to Le Mans, how she wished i would go along, and how guilty she felt leaving me to travel on alone.  She asked what my plans were, so launching into details about going to St Paul de Vence, Cap Ferrat, Cap D’Ail, Monaco and Menton, I hastened to reassure her I would be all right travelling on my own.

She went off to wash down the kitchen, the boys swept the lunch-room and washed down the tables, I swept and washed the hostel vestibule, and the young man swept the stairs and walkways to the front door.  Myra and the Mazambiquians hefted their gear, hugged me good-bye and went their way toward the main road. The young man appeared with a shiny Norton motorbike upon which he strapped his pack.  He waited to walk me to the train station, and on the way there introduced himself and explained he still had a week of his holiday to spend before going back to England to his job as a photography technician.  “Do you feel just a little bit nervous being on your own so suddenly? ” he asked.  Had to admit that yes, it was a bit daunting. “Would you mind we met in a week’s time at the hostel for dinner in Cap D’Ail?” he asked quietly. “Would you really do that?” I quizzed him. “Sure”, said he “I will cook, and we can talk about your adventures on your own up to that time, and the next day I’ll have to ride off to England and go back to work.   Once you meet up with your friend in Rome you’ll be able to tell your her that a young man waited for you and  cooked you dinner when you arrived in Cap D’Ail!”

A week later, I trudged up the hill to the hostel in Cap D’Ail.  Parked by the front entrance was a black Norton motorbike.  My heart lifted in gratitude.  Robert was waiting for me with prawns and a Nicoise salad and a small bottle of wine.  We toasted “To new friends, and to future adventures!”

Flood Watch…

May 18, 2007

 Last evening, Martha and Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis convened in our kitchen for a bout of tea drinking.  I had promised OLPC that she would be provided with her favourite chai tea, however, Martha arrived first and announced firmly ” I hope you are not making chai, that yucky stuff that makes me gag!” So, for her, the kettle was put into service for some appropriate, bland herbal concoction and she sat with her own tea pot of the stuff. OLPC breezed in late, as is her habit. She sat with the pot of chai which she shared with Rumpole, who also prefers it to other sorts of tea.

OLPC launched into a description of the flood planning meeting at the hospital where she works as nurse.  During this meeting, maps showing a worst case scenario flloding of the Fraser River showed how our Municipality might be isolated like an island from the municipality 20 kilometers to the west where her hospital is situated.  In fact, our place was to be cut off from the nearest Eastern municipality where Martha works as a photography teacher. This also means that Rumpole would be prevented from going to his office in the town across the river from us which is accessible by 2 bridges or one ferry.

Martha’s younger brother is an RCMP officer in our town.  He has kept up to date about emergency plans, quite detailed and elaborate, and Martha has been informing us as to how the anticipated flood might impact our lives. Even though where she, OLPC and Rumpole and I live are on high ground, we may lose electricity, water and sewer, and could be isolated for a number of days on an island surrounded by floodwaters.

OLPC poses a question to Martha. “What would you have to do if you were isolated at school, while at work, if the flood suddenly rose?” Martha thought about this awhile and discussed the possibility that she may have to stay in the school for a number of days with several hundred students, sleep in the gymnasium and eat cafeteria meals. As to whether or not she would have to work around the clock to occupy the students during such enforced isolation, she fervently hoped would not happen.

In response to this, OLPC told the tale of being sequestered in her elementary school with students and teachers during a three day snow storm which had caused a massive whiteout in her village back in Ontario one winter.  She and the other kids thought this to be a total lark, a huge unexpected yet welcome adventure.  They didn’t sleep for three nights, nor did the poor supervising teachers, who gave every indication of succumbing to nervous breakdowns near the end of this ordeal/adventure. Martha visibly shuddered and offered up for us to think about just how horrible it might be to be stuck in a large school with hundreds of hormonal teenagers, already chafing at the bit anticipating the end of the school year, the Prom, the unavoidable final exams.  So far, she said, there were no concrete plans in place for her school being isolated by flood.  Martha is a planner, examines every possibility, and trouble shoots in anticipation.  She finds this lack of direction from the powers that be quite frustrating. “I just hope the river rises while I am still at home, not while at school” she states.

OLPC’s hospital is staffed by people from all over the Eastern Lower Mainland’ north shore. Any workers prevented from going to work their shift by rising flood, would additionally stress an already understaffed hospital and the patients requiring its services. “The problems that would ensue boggles my imagination,” says OLPC.

When asked how he would handle going to work, Rumpole proposes that he may move into Vancouver for the short term and stay with his friend “Man of Science”.  From there he could easily go to his office daily.

Since I do not work outside the house, I could be den mother, and ensure OLPC’s three just grown children might get along well if their Mother was stuck at her hospital. It just also might be possible that these kids would reciprocate this looking after by checking on me and other neighbours from time to time.

All of us have laid in adequate provisions to last for a couple of weeks.  No one need go hungry and thirsty. We can also provide help for our immediate neighbours.

Rumpole and I are reassured that Renaissance Man, Glasgow Girl and Mousey are fully provisioned for this potential emergency, we just hope that the worst case scenario does not happen because many people will be adversely affected and much turmoil and discomfort will ensue for large number of our neighbours.

Martha walks daily by the river and notes its gradually rising waters. In many places where she habitually walks with her dog, the river banks have been eroded and shore trees have toppled.  She is anxious about the potential massive flood.  So are the rest of us, and we hope the melt of the massive snow-pack up country occurs gradually enough to allow the river to carry excess water to the ocean without causing a disaster in our little corner of the world.

We are prepared as well as it is possible to be ready.